Originally created 05/30/97

Giants beat Braves' weak offense



ATLANTA - Back home again, a familiar odor arose from the bat rack in the Braves dugout.

It's a fresh wood scent, the smell of unused lumber.

A lineup that swung cold and hot on the West Coast is back in the deep freeze.

Atlanta's anemic offense produced five hits Thursday night and John Smoltz allowed more than three runs for only the second time this year, a combination that sent the West-leading Giants past the Braves 4-2 in front of 38,844 fans at Turner Field.

"They surprised me," Braves catcher Javier Lopez said. "They held us without scoring a lot of runs."

Atlanta's offense produced 26 hits and 21 runs in back-to-back wins against the Padres, but failed to deliver an RBI hit against the Giants. The Braves failed to take advantage of six walks by Giants starter Shawn Estes and stranded eight men on base, four in scoring position.

Credit Estes and the Giants bullpen. The left-hander, whom the Braves attempted to acquire last winter, survived his wildness and a trio of relievers held the Braves hitless over the final three innings, with Rod Beck picking up his 16th save.

"Estes is an up-and-coming guy with good stuff," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "I don't think (general manager) John Schuerholz would have tried to get him if he didn't have good stuff. He probably didn't have his best stuff tonight, but the bottom line is we didn't capitalize."

Smoltz (6-4) hasn't had much success against the Giants in nine years. He lost two of three decisions last year and San Francisco is one of only three teams that has a winning record against him.

The right-hander received two favorable calls at home plate from umpire Tom Hallion but still saw his four-game win streak end. Hallion blew a call in the sixth inning, ruling Bill Mueller out at the plate despite Lopez's missed tag, and called Rick Wilkins out the next inning when replays showed he was safe.

A collection of soft hits did in Smoltz in the seventh. Stan Javier delivered an RBI single and Mueller contributed a bases-loaded hit, sending the Giants in front 3-2.

"There was three runs on the board before we knew what happened," Braves manager Bobby Cox said.

Said Smoltz, "I made one bad pitch that whole inning to Mueller and he took advantage of it. It's frustrating to get beat with singles and that's how I got beat."

If the Giants had been willing to take on first baseman Fred McGriff and his hefty salary last winter, Estes (7-2) would have become a Brave. But San Francisco refused to part with the 24-yearold and the trade talks ended, happily for the Giants.

Estes showed why so many teams were eager to acquire him. He escaped a first-inning jam and limited the Braves to four hits and two runs through the next five innings, striking out four.

The first run scored in the third inning when Michael Tucker reached on a fielder's choice, advanced to third on Jones' double and scored on McGriff's grounder.

Estes didn't give up another hit until McGriff led the sixth with a single, which quickly developed into a headache for the left-hander. He walked Andruw Jones and Lopez to load the bases with no outs but almost wiggled out of the jam.

Estes struck out Mark Lemke and Rafael Belliard, but Smoltz, the Braves' only remaining .400 hitter, worked the count full. Smoltz fouled off two pitches before accepting a walk, forcing in a run.

But that was all Estes would yield. Unlike Smoltz, he limited the damage and when the Giants' bats awoke, he walked out of Turner Field a winner.

"Tonight was, by far, the toughest game for me mentally," Estes said. "If I had had a lapse in my concentration they would have taken advantage of it, being a championship team."